Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Sunday Telegraph review
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Script fighters: Mark Strong, Patrick Marber and Kimberly Williams in Speed-the-Plow at the New Ambassadors.  Photo: Angela LubranoMamet satire keeps its cutting edge

John Gross of the Sunday Telegraph reviews Speed the Plow, 19 March 2000

DAVID Mamet's 1988 Hollywood satire Speed-the-Plow is the kind of play Ben Jonson might have written if he had been magically transported to contemporary Los Angeles. The language would naturally be somewhat richer if it were by Jonson; but Mamet's tough, edgy, wisecrack-strewn dialogue is entirely adequate to his purposes.

Bobby (Mark Strong) has been appointed head of production at a film studio. His pal Charlie (Patrick Marber), an independent producer, comes in with a sure-fire proposition. It will work wonders for both of them, and Bobby agrees to recommend it to the studio boss. Then, in the course of seducing his temporary secretary, Karen (Kimberly Williams), he is persuaded by her that he ought to recommend a "serious" script instead, a New Age farrago about the end of the world. Charlie comes back next day to find his dream is about to be scuppered  but he fights back.

It is not much more than an anecdote, but it enables Mamet to mount a fine demonstration of some of his favourite themes: deviousness, male bonding (and un-bonding), hard men turning sentimental, ambitions running off the rails. And he keeps you guessing. What exactly is Karen up to? What is Charlie's best strategy for changing Bobby's mind?

The play itself starts rather slowly, and so does Peter Gill's production at the New Ambassadors. It only really catches fire when Karen turns comically bright-eyed (Kimberly Williams is excellent) and starts rhapsodising about the second script. But after that it never looks back, and the confrontations of the last act, both verbal and physical, are terrific.

My only reservation is that emotionally the conflict is too lop-sided. Charlie may be a coarse-grained operator, but Mamet plainly prefers his honest cynicism to Bobby's sudden access of half-baked idealism. A better title for the piece might have been "Cutthe-Crap". Within its limits,

though, it is incisive and entertaining, and once they hit their stride Marber and Strong both give sizzling performances.


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